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(2nd LD) Parties seek to punish lawmakers who disparaged 1980 democratic uprising

18:10 February 11, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES with reports of President Moon rejecting opposition nominees for special in last 5 paras, minor edits throughout)

SEOUL, Feb. 11 (Yonhap) -- The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and three rival parties said Monday they will seek to punish three lawmakers of the main opposition party over their controversial comments allegedly disparaging a 1980 pro-democracy uprising.

The four parties said they will file a petition against three Liberty Korea Party (LKP) lawmakers with the parliamentary special committee on ethics on Tuesday over their conduct with the goal of stripping them of their parliamentary seats.

Representatives Kim Jin-tae, Lee Jong-myeong and Kim Soon-rye have come under fire for holding a public hearing last week, inviting a far-right figure who has claimed that North Korean troops were involved in the pro-democracy uprising in the southwestern city of Gwangju in 1980.

Two of them also made controversial remarks allegedly disparaging the democracy movement, with one claiming that a riot was turned into a pro-democracy uprising by people with political purposes.

These images, from left to right, show Rep. Kim Jin-tae, Lee Jong-myeong and Kim Soon-rye of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party. (Yonhap)

On May 18, 1980, the military conducted a bloody crackdown on demonstrators, including students, in Gwangju protesting against then-President Chun Doo-hwan, who took power in a military coup a year earlier.

The tank-led quelling of the uprising led to the deaths of around 200 people and 1,000 others were injured, official data showed.

"The four parties agreed to file a petition against the three with the ethics committee. There were no different views in seeking to kick them out of the National Assembly," DP floor leader Hong Young-pyo told a press briefing.

The DP formed a joint front with the minor conservative Bareunmirae Party, the minor liberal Party for Democracy and Peace and the leftist Justice Party.

The ruling party strongly denounced the LKP in an apparent bid to make a turnaround after being riddled by a set of political scandals including allegations of real estate speculation by a former ruling party lawmaker.

"The LKP should apologize to the public for the three lawmakers' reckless acts and take such actions as the revocation of their party memberships," DP chairman Lee Hae-chan said in a statement.

Separately, the Justice Party filed a complaint with the prosecution against the three lawmakers and Jee Man-won, a far-right activist who claims North Korean involvement in the 1980 movement.

Jee has already been found guilty of defamation and spreading false information for his claim of North Korean involvement in the pro-democracy movement.

Apparently baffled at the escalating political crisis, the LKP sought to calm down the aftermath.

The controversy has dented the party, which is eager to muster support from conservative voters ahead of its leadership election, slated for Feb. 27.

"They should not act in any way that could burden the party," LKP chairman Kim Byong-joon said at a meeting with party members.

A proposal to dismiss a lawmaker must first be reviewed and approved at the ethics committee, which is currently chaired by the LKP, and the relevant advisory panel.

By law, more than two thirds of lawmakers need to vote in favor of approving such a bill at a parliamentary plenary session.

The DP holds 128 seats in the 298-member National Assembly, followed by the LKP with 113 posts and the Bareunmirae Party with 29 seats.

The Party for Democracy and Peace has 14 seats and the Justice Party holds five.

To pass a bill to dismiss the three, some votes from the LKP are necessary to fill the quorum with 199 seats.

Kim Young-sam, who later became president, was stripped of his parliamentary seat in 1979 due to political suppression when he was the chief of an opposition party. It was the only case in Korean history of the parliament dismissing a sitting lawmaker.

Hong Young-pyo (2nd from L), floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party and his counterparts from three minor parties announce their joint plan to seek to punish three lawmakers of the main opposition party over their controversial comments allegedly disparaging a 1980 pro-democracy uprising on Feb. 11, 2019, at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhp)

In a related development, President Moon Jae-in rejected two LKP nominees as members of a new fact-finding mission designed to verify suspicions that the then military government and its conservative predecessors may have covered up the truth about the bloody crackdown on the 1980 movement.

Many believe hundreds, if not thousands, more may have been killed, with recent reports suggesting the military government of the time even had military helicopters open fire at civilians.

The LKP earlier named three nominees to the nine-member panel under a special law on the fact-finding mission.

The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said it will ask the main opposition party to name two new nominees, as two of its original three nominees failed to meet legal requirements.

The third nominee, a former district court judge, has also made some "concerning remarks" regarding the 1980 movement, but has met all legal requirements, Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told a press briefing, suggesting the former judge may be appointed as requested.



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